Observing US:
A column about America,
by Marylaine Block
originally published by
Fox News Online, 1998-2000

#32, April 15, 1999


by Marylaine Block

As your correspondent from Iowa, otherwise known as "flyover country," I am pleased to report that we, too, are part of that trendy, definably American culture that starts in California, jumps to New York, and then seeps inward. Granted it makes it to Iowa two to five years late, but it does get here.

Why, ten years back, when a friend came to town, he asked if there was a really special restaurant he could take me to that revealed the essence of my town. As it turned out, though, he didn't want biscuits and country gravy at the local diner.

Now we too have ethnic food available. We can choose from Greek, Vietnamese, Italian, Chinese, Indian, or Mexican. We even have an authentic Jewish deli, and our grocery stores offer matzoh meal and gefilte fish.

Ten years ago, Iowans made bagels that were like Wonder bread, only round. Now we can buy real bagels, the tough kind that fight back.

Of course here in the heartland, where farmwives invented the basic 10,000 calorie meal, nouvelle cuisine was a non-starter. Iowa is the natural home of all-you-can eat buffets. Not only do we like to chow down, we also have a hardheaded appreciation of value-for-money; if we plonk down money for food, we want to take a minimum of ten minutes to eat it. At the very least, we figure we should be able to SEE it.

Two years ago, my town got its first coffee bars, and we now can debate the merits of latte and capuccino right along with New Yorkers. Many of us do this after working out -- yes, even Iowans have developed an unseemly concern with rocklike abs and buns of steel. We too buy exercise machines which we never touch after the first 6 months.

Other signs of hip trendiness have sneaked in as well. Many of our kids wear sagging pants, and some of them pierce their noses, eyebrows, tongues, and bellybuttons.

They listen to rap, hiphop and metal. One local record store sells nothing but an enormous collection of obscure punk and heavy metal bands, and we had our first rave a couple of years ago (at least the first one the cops found out about). To be sure, the rest of the country has since moved on to thrash and such, but, better late than never, right?

Our local arena may have booked Neil Diamond for its opening event, but it has since booked Nine Inch Nails (which a local minister seems to have succeeded in praying away-- a major blizzard the night of the event canceled the concert).

Thanks to cable and the internet, we have Barney and the Teletubbies (no place is safe). We too now have triple X movies, the World Wrestling Federation, and Black Entertainment Television, even if more of us are still watching Lawrence Welk.

You may think of us as rural but we too have been malled and suburbanized and WalMarted. Our towns all have a Borders.

Gambling is as American as apple pie, and though only 15 years ago our state prosecuted churches for running bingo games, we now have more legal ways of gambling than any other state -- dog races, horse racing, Indian casinos, the state lottery, slot machines, and riverboat gambling. The riverboat casino is perhaps the only cultural phenomenon that began in Iowa and spread outward (unless you count the fact that the captain of the starship Enterprise will be born some day in a small Iowa town).

But let's not forget that Iowa also has Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers and Sisters, and a United Way that always exceeds its goals.

If anything should start from the heartland and spread to the rest of the country, it's our habit of helping out, of paying attention to community problems. We midwesterners are NOT bowling alone. We're people who still have block parties, get out to vote, sponsor raffles to help pay for a child's kidney transplant, and cheerfully pass bond issues for our kids' schools.

As the U-2 song says, "We're one, but we're not the same." Give us a little time and we midwesterners will catch up with trendy culture. But America might be a better, if less hip, place if the rest of the country caught up with our culture too.

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